Chelsea ignored the whine from her car and the slobber that smeared the window. She didn’t allow her dog to join hunts. Bentley weighed almost as much as her and seemed to have a human understanding of language. But he was no match for a vampire.
She ran a hand over her ax and glanced at her hunting partner. “I thought you said this was only going to take a few minutes?”
Keegan shrugged his thin shoulders. “That’s what I was told, but…”
But the spindly vampires still hadn’t appeared after nearly an hour. The rusty iron scraps were nearly dry. Chelsea opened another bottle of water and doused the pile, for the fourth time.
Keegan snorted. “Good idea. The wind is picking up again.” Picking up was an understatement. The wind howled out of the north, blowing right through the leather duster Chelsea wore. The fringe on her chest and arms danced wildly as she peered into the shadows.
Scatterers were the craziest monster she had ever heard of in the short time she’d been a hunter. Tall, and stick-thin, they fed on human blood, but unlike nightlings, scatterers weren’t strong. They did, however, teleport through shadows. Hence the huge pile of bait. The rusty iron farm tools smelled like blood to them and had been placed under the lone tree in the field. In the shade, the scatterers should be drawn to the scent, and be able to simply appear next to it.
However, despite the recent sightings in the area, no spindly humanoid figures appeared. Chelsea sighed and leaned against the door of her car. Keegan joined her shortly. They stood in comfortable silence, not needing to speak. They’d been hunting together for a few weeks now. Together, they could take out bigger monsters and earn more money. This was their biggest hunt to date. Nobody knew quite how many scatterers there were, but they tended to band together.
A loud growl rolled and Bentley’s nose pushed at the crack in the window. Chelsea stood up straight, eyes straining. She saw nothing, but part of the pile toppled over.
She glanced at Keegan. He nodded, pulling out the short metal tube that telescoped into a staff. Chelsea found her ax in her hand, eyes locked on the shade of the tree. As she approached the outline of the vampire became clear. Slightly darker than the shadows it stood in, the overlapping patched for black, brown, and gray were the perfect camouflage for a shadow dweller.
Keegan grabbed her arm. “Remember, they have claws. They aren’t super strong, but they can hurt you.”
She caught his eye. “Like anything we hunt can’t hurt us?”
“Fine, smart ass. Just don’t forget we’re two hours from the nearest hedge doctor.”
Chelsea grimaced. Most hunters worked to avoid seeing a hedge doctor. There was no telling what one would ask for in return for a patch up. Best to stay away whenever possible.
The shadowy stickman shifted, driving away all thoughts of debts and doctors. She darted to the right, ready to send it right into Keegan.
Instead, the vampire skittered back two steps… and vanished. Chelsea and Keegan froze.
Eyes darting madly, the staff swirled into a figure-eight pattern. “You see it.”
“No.” Her voice came out low, the barest whisper. The wind whistled down the prairie, shifting the branches and leaves, bringing biting cold. The scatterer remained unseen.
Another deep growl from Bentley was followed by frantic barking. Chelsea whirled, ax swinging. Sure enough, the scatterer and two buddies charged them.
Chelsea sucked in a breath, readied to fight. Keegan stepped closer to her. Before the scatterers reached them, they disappeared again.
“Okay. What the fuck?” Chelsea whipped around again, searching for the vampires.
Keegan’s voice came out in a low and rough. “They move through shadows, remember?” He backed up until his shoulders touched Chelsea’s.
Eyes darting from shadow to shadow, she didn’t bother to answer his snark. She had forgotten about the teleporting. Or at least she hadn’t considered what it meant to a fight.
Bentley’s frantic barking sounded again. A scatterer had popped up beside the car. Chelsea screamed as she rushed the vampire. Another scream sounded when her car window creaked under Bentley’s assault. The huge mutt threw himself into the window a second time spider webbing the glass.
Chelsea reached the vampire as Bentley rammed the window a third time, shattering it. Pieces of the glass glinted gold in the dog’s black fur. Her breath came in short bursts, but she managed to scream, “Not my fucking dog!”
Bentley snatched at the scatterer’s arm. The vampire let out a tinny screech. The sound barely registered beyond Chelsea’s racing heart. It tried to pull away from Bentley, but the dog backed up, growling all the while.
The endlessly slow moments finally passed, and Chelsea reached the car. Screaming still, she aimed her hatchet at the scatterer’s thin neck. The finely-honed edge still stuck on the vertebrae, but the scatterer couldn’t breathe and gave no more tiny screams as it dropped to the ground, clawing at the wound in its neck.
Chelsea put a boot on the vampire’s shoulder and wrenched the ax to freedom. The scatterer flailed, and time slowed as one clawed hand directed at Bentley. Icey indecision coated her limbs and brain. She couldn’t move or plan or think.
Keegan’s staff slapped the creature’s arm. It shuddered, the now broken limb flopping against it’s body. As the convulsions continued, rage pushed through Chelsea.
She stomped on the scatterer’s bony, mottled chest. Raising her ax high, she aimed for her previous wound and succeeded in removing the vampire’s head. Only then did Bentley release the creature’s arm.
Chelsea dropped to her knees and hugged Bentley’s heavy neck. “Are you okay?”
Bentley licked her face as he pulled away. To Chelsea’s continued horror, he bowled into the scatterer attempting to flank Keegan. Screaming once more, Chelsea followed him.
She had eyes only for Bentley. He grabbed a dappled limb, and she hacked it off. Keegan slammed the butt of his staff into the creature’s head. Chelsea lopped it off in three swings.
Bentley had sunk his teeth into the leg of the third scatterer. She and Keegan rushed over. They made short work of the last vampire.
Chelsea dropped to the ground at the same time as their prey, fingers yanking on Bentley’s soft fur. “You bad dog. Oh my Lord Jesus Christ, let him be safe.”
Keegan laughed, pulling on her coat. “He’s fine.”
She slapped away his hand before continuing to feel Bentley for injuries. At first, the dog wiggled under questing fingers, guiding her to his favorite scratching spots. As she continued to probe, Bentley’s sat down, a whine low in his throat. He licked at her face. Only then did she realize she was crying.
She wrapped her arms around the dog. “Thank you, Jesus. I’ll go to Mass this weekend.” His plush fur tickled her face and soothed her soul.
“Chelsea?” Keegan’s voice had shaded into worry.
She sucked in a deep breath and forced her shaking knees to support her. “I’m okay. It’s…”
“Let’s clean this up and get paid.” He tried to sound casual, but the looks he shot her were worried. They had been since they had started hunting together. Chelsea didn’t care. He could think whatever he wanted. She had monsters to kill and a dog to feed.
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